December 20, 2012

Pokes finding success with defense

It seems like they finally broke through.

Last season's Oklahoma State basketball team showed glimpses of greatness, but never quite took the necessary steps to make it to the next level of playing.

This season's a completely different story already, and it's evident in one place-Their defense.

It's been the driving force behind their incredible 9-1 start to the season, which has them tied for first in the Big 12 with the Kansas Jayhawks, and it was evident yet again when UT-Arlington came to town as the Cowboys forced 20 turnovers in the first half and 31 overall.

"We got after it," coach Travis Ford said. "We needed to lock down on a couple of guys, and we did that."

It's not necessarily in one area. The Cowboys haven't been overwhelming in any statistical category so far this season, but for some reason they've been able to lock it down.

That new attitude has them ranked eighth in the nation in overall defensive efficiency and eighteenth overall in opponents points per game.

"Coach Ford emphasizes defense more in practice," center Philip Jurick said. "Every night you can go out and play defense, but some nights you may not be making shots. It's the only thing we can really control, and just get better at every day."

It's something that stems from Marcus Smart's arrival. Ever since he set foot on campus, the Pokes have been better.
It's in his basketball DNA, and it's rooted in his high school playing days.

"That was our pride," Smart said of his high school team's emphasis on defense. "We were the best defensive team in the country my sophomore, junior, and senior year. We prided ourselves on defense, and I was always taught it wins games."

Smart said when he came to Stillwater, he just kept playing his game and everyone caught on quickly, including Le'Bryan Nash who was regarded as a scoring-machine out of high school but has since picked up a more diverse approach which has included defense this year.

"They reacted in a positive way," Smart said of Nash and his teammates. "We're going to do our best to not let you score and lock you down every single time."

That approach is working, and has the Cowboys in a lot contender conversations as they inch closer and closer to Big 12 Conference play.

Can they keep it going through their game against Gonzaga next weekend, and ultimately one of the best college basketball leagues in the country?

Only time will tell, but they're moving in the right direction.

"The great thing is we have so much room for improvement," Ford said. "We're 9-1, and I think that there are so many areas that we can get better at and will get better at. It's good that we have a good record, but we're not a great team yet."

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